Mak­ing the shoe re­ally fit

Imperial Valley Press - - OPINION -

Gov. Jerry Brown has re­vealed his re­vised bud­get for state spend­ing, thus launch­ing the an­nual bud­get dance with the state Leg­is­la­ture.

Maybe “dance” isn’t the ap­pro­pri­ate word. Per­haps “bat­tle” would be a bet­ter choice.

Brown’s bud­get plan to­tals $137.6 bil­lion, which is $6 bil­lion higher than his pre­lim­i­nary pro­posal made in Jan­uary. The bump up is a re­sult of bet­ter-than-ex­pected rev­enues, mostly be­cause April state in­come re­turns ex­ceeded ex­pec­ta­tions.

Thus, Brown’s be­lief that the bud­get fea­tures an $8.8-bil­lion sur­plus, most of which the gov­er­nor be­lieves should be socked away in the state’s re­serve fund.

It’s all sup­po­si­tion at this point, be­cause the ac­tual sur­plus — if there is one — will be fought over by ma­jor­ity Democrats in the Leg­is­la­ture, with mi­nor­ity Repub­li­cans in both the Assem­bly and Se­nate in the usual pol­icy tug-of-war.

Democrats are al­ready talk­ing about boost­ing spend­ing on health-care ser­vices, es­pe­cially for the poor and un­doc­u­mented res­i­dents. The point the ma­jor­ity party lead­ers are mak­ing is that if Cal­i­for­nia is in the midst of good eco­nomic times, the ben­e­fits should ac­crue to all Cal­i­for­ni­ans.

Repub­li­cans in the Leg­is­la­ture point out that Brown’s proposed bud­get of $137.6 bil­lion, with its an­tic­i­pated sur­plus, does not ac­knowl­edge the re­al­i­ties of state fi­nances, the $200-bil­lion por­tion of which in­cludes out­stand­ing state debt and other fis­cal li­a­bil­i­ties.

And the GOP fac­tion cor­rectly asks why var­i­ous state taxes con­tinue to be in­creased when there is a bud­get sur­plus.

Like we said ear­lier, ex­pect a leg­isla­tive bat­tle be­tween now and mid-June, which is when the state Con­sti­tu­tion re­quires a signed bud­get. In fact, if the two sides — three sides re­ally, when you count the gov­er­nor — can’t agree by mid­night of June 15, law­mak­ers’ pay can be cut.

That would be a rea­son­able pol­icy at the fed­eral level, dock­ing pay when law­mak­ers fail to do their jobs. But don’t hold your breath on that one.

We have to ad­mit that this bud­get cy­cle is a stark turn­around for state gov­ern­ment. As re­cently as 2011, when Brown took of­fice for the sec­ond time in his life, the state bud­get was wal­low­ing $25 bil­lion in the red. But since then the econ­omy has been cook­ing, putting more money in the pock­ets of mostly wealthy busi­ness own­ers, who pony up two-thirds of the in­come tax rev­enue each year.

We like Brown’s plan to en­hance the state’s re­serve fund, be­cause as we’ve all wit­nessed in re­cent years, Cal­i­for­nia has and will con­tinue to have press­ing needs to pay up for unan­tic­i­pated calami­ties.

Gov­ern­ment in gen­eral has this an­noy­ing habit of ramp­ing up spend­ing in the eco­nom­i­cally fat years, while not wor­ry­ing about the lean years. But the lean years al­ways, al­ways come around.

For ex­am­ple, it’s a safe bet that we’re in for an­other mon­strous wild­fire sea­son, be­cause once again, Cal­i­for­nia is be­com­ing bone dry. The state’s fire­fight­ing agen­cies are ask­ing for more money, knowing what’s com­ing in the months and per­haps years ahead.

We also have to plan for ex­tended pe­ri­ods of drought, tor­ren­tial rains and flood­ing, earth­quakes — you name it, we’ve got it, and it all needs to be paid for when and af­ter it hap­pens.

And the state’s solid econ­omy also is on un­steady ground. The first sign that eco­nomic growth may be on the ropes can be found in rising gaso­line prices. When the domi­noes start fall­ing, it’s best to just stay out of the way.

Still, Cal­i­for­nia needs a proac­tive bud­get and spend­ing plan. With the world’s fifth-largest econ­omy, that’s im­por­tant.

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